Officials said the measure would help fund the construction of a fifth fire station in the southern portion of the district along with a new fire engine and the new personnel that would be needed to staff it.
The station’s construction is part of a larger effort by the district to drive down response times and improve service in the community, Fire Chief Richard Lieder said. Over the past five years, the district has shifted from an predominantly volunteer organization—with firefighters often responding from their houses to the station and then to the scene—to a combination of full-time and part-time employees and volunteers working 24/7 at four fire stations, he said.
If approved by voters, the measure would generate an estimated $1.1 million for the district annually, Lieder said. The estimated cost of the new fire station includes $400,000 for a loan payment for the land and construction, about $700,000 for a new engine and $835,000 per year for the 12 new personnel that would be required to keep the station staffed 24/7, he said.
“We’ll have to fund some of that from our existing property tax revenue, but with the combination of sales tax and what we have left over in property tax, we can make it work,” he said. “Without sales tax, it becomes pretty difficult to build and staff that fifth fire station.”
The new station will target the portion of the district to the southeast of Beltway 8 near the Sam Houston Race Park, an area that can be difficult to reach for firefighters at Station 24 on Perry Road, the next closest station, Lieder said.
The response rate standards set for ESD No. 13 by the National Fire Protection Association call for the district to have 15 firefighters on the scene within 9 minutes 90% of the time. The average response time for the district is 6 minutes and 40 seconds, Lieder said, but the drive time to incidents in the area south of the Beltway can be in excess of 14 minutes.
“The Gessner [Road] and Beltway 8 intersection is our main gateway into that part of the district, but traffic there gets notoriously bad at certain times of the day,” he said.
The area, which sat for many years as largely grassy fields, has also seen development pick up over the past few years, including new residential subdivisions, multi-story office buildings and warehouses that can be in excess of 500,000 square feet, Lieder said. Construction is underway on the Grand National Business Park, a project being planned on a 106-acre tract next to the Sam Houston Race Park.
“There’s a lot of demand for service down [there], and we are currently underserving that area,” Lieder said. “We’re probably down to the Sam Houston Race Park area at least once, many times twice a day, sometimes three times a day, for motor vehicle accidents.”
The fifth station would also have benefits districtwide, Lieder said. Right now, when the district has to respond to a structural fire, it has to dispatch firefighters from all four of its stations to meet NFPA standards, which leaves the rest of the district uncovered for a period of time, he said.
“With the addition of a fifth fire station in the district, we’ll dispatch four fire stations to the structural fire, and that will leave one of our fire stations—depending on where the fire is—in service,” he said. “We’ll then post that remaining engine company to kind of the geographic center of the district … so they will be available to respond immediately to any other calls that happen in the district.”
If approved, the measure would raise the sales tax rate on goods sold in the district's boundaries from 7.25% to 8.25%, but only in parts where the rate has not already been raised to the maximum amount by Limited Purpose Annexation agreements—agreements between local utility districts and the city of Houston that allow those entities to collect sales tax revenue without voter approval. ESD officials estimated that roughly 90% of the commercial areas in the district are already at the maximum sales tax rate and would not see an increase.
The May ballot measure would help keep the remaining available revenue in the local area, Lieder said.
ESD No. 13 put a similar measure to voters In 2017, but the measure was defeated. District officials said low turnout—only 168 people voted in the 2017 election—could have worked against them and said they are increasing voter outreach efforts this time around. Two open house events are set for April 23 and April 30 where residents can view maps and ask questions to command staff, Lieder said.
If the measure does not pass, Lieder said the district has also looked into relocating Station 22, currently on Cypress North Houston Road, to the underserved area. The neighborhoods served by Station 22 also have several stations operated by the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department nearby, whereas the neighborhoods south of Beltway 8 are not quickly accessed by partner fire departments, Lieder said.
“If we have to make a choice about allocation of limited resources, this is most probably how it would occur,” he said. “It’s certainly not ideal, but it’s what we would most probably have to do.”
Lieder emphasized that the May ballot measure deals strictly with sales tax, and property tax rates would not be affected. ESD No. 13's property tax rate is set at the maximum of $0.10 per $100 of valuation and cannot be raised.
The April 23 open house is set to take place from 6-8 p.m. at Station 24, 12073 Perry Road, Houston. Attendees can arrive at any point of the two-hour event, officials said.
Voters can cast ballots during early voting and on election day at the Cypress Creek Fire Department Administration Building, 11900 Cypress North Houston Road, Cypress. Early Voting will be available from April 22-26 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., April 27 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., and April 29-30 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Polls are open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on election day, May 4.
A map of the district's boundaries can be found here.